Ivory carvings are a treasured part of Chinese traditional culture. In feng shui, it is said to “disperse misfortune and drive out evil.” Today, ivory works of art are essential status symbols, even given as gifts in potential business deals.
On the surface, this is all legal, as ivory is not banned in China. As long as it comes from a government-registered dealer, people are free to purchase it. Yet therein lies the rub. The International Fund for Animal Welfare conducted a survey in 2011 and found that “out of 158 shops and carving factories in Beijing, Shanghai, Fuzhou and Guangzhou, 101 were not licensed, or were selling smuggled ivory.” This doesn’t even count online dealers, who can sell ivory on the cheap.
Demand continues to rise, and so the price of ivory has soared. In 2010, raw ivory fetched about $750 per kilogram. Today, it’s up to $2,100.
This has driven the slaughter of elephants to record levels. Save the Elephants estimates that 33,000 elephants were killed every year between 2010 and 2012. Militant groups are often to blame, with the high price of ivory funneling back to Africa in the form of weapons and ammunition.
“Without concerted international action to reduce the demand for ivory, measures to reduce the killing of elephants for ivory will fail,” says Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants. “Although half a world away, China holds the key to the future of the African elephant.”